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‘Saturday Night Live’ Review: Jason Momoa Makes His Enthusiastic Debut

Spoiler alert: There are no "Stargate Atlantis" references in this episode.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- "Jason Momoa" Episode 1754 -- Pictured: (l-r) Host Jason Momoa as an Extra Christmas Spirit and Mikey Day as Ebenezer Scrooge during the "An Extra Christmas Carol" sketch on Saturday, December 8, 2018 -- (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC)

“Saturday Night Live.”

Will Heath/NBC

Another week, another first-time “Saturday Night Live” host. Jason Momoa is Aquaman — he’s kind of a big deal under the sea — but he’s also considered a hunk and a heartthrob, a point this episode has no problem acknowledging. He rips off tearaway pants at one point, which was perhaps expected by fans tuning in to see him.

But here’s a disappointing spoiler alert, fans: There is no “Stargate: Atlantis” or “North Shore” reference in this episode, because the “SNL” writers are aren’t about completely giving the audience what they want. Oh, a “Game of Thrones” sketch, huh? How unexpected. (Just to be clear, that last part was a joke. It would’ve been ridiculous for “SNL” to avoid having Momoa speak Dothraki for old time’s sake.)

Host: Jason Momoa

First of all, the title of this monologue on YouTube is “Jason Momoa Mo-Monologue.” Cute.

This opening monologue sets the tone of Momoa’s work in the episode, for better or worse, because like he says, he’s a real “‘SNL’ super nerd dork,” and he is beyond hyped to be doing this job. The monologue is so many things at once — to the point no one even gets to address the lack of shoes and the pink pants, which deserve to be addressed — with Momoa having a pre-recorded song (“This is my moment”), opening a jar of pickles (with eye contact!) for Aidy Bryant, and joining Kenan Thompson, Leslie Jones, and Chris Redd in their Parliament-Funkadelic “Aqua Boogie” jam session. And that last part? That last part is something beautiful.

Naturally, a lot of the sketches that feature Jason Momoa this week — actually, all that feature him except for the Rudolph sketch — focus on his “manliness” (whether enforcing it or subverting it) in some way. This sketch does that while also playing as a pretty funny satire of ridiculous “for men” products (normal products, but re-branded due to cartoonish masculinity, like “toothpaste for men”).

Of course there’s a “Game of Thrones” sketch — even though he hasn’t been on the show since 2012, which is actually pretty amazing to realize — and this is one of those moments where Momoa’s excitement messes with the pacing, as he fumbles the Oscar hosting joke during the Brienne of Tarth bit, and it’s really awkward because of how close it is to the end. This sketch isn’t perfect — really, it could use just some slight polishing — but it is a sketch where even the weaker, early parts of the sketch are actually integral for the later parts of the sketch. (It could also could’ve stood to decide whether Momoa would speak Dothraki the whole time or instead just speak English.) Khal Drago’s instinct to stab, of course. comes back in the final bit, which is a surprising coda to the sketch — with Kyle Mooney as the Chris Hardwick-esque host of the after show, “Talking Dojo” — providing the rare modern “SNL” sketch where people can’t just say the show doesn’t come up with actual endings to a sketch. (“No more after shows!” “Best. Death. Ever.”)

The best part of the sketch, though, is when it simply becomes “Maury,” with Joffrey (Kate McKinnon) and Olenna Tyrell’s (Aidy Bryant, who is amazing here) confrontation, leading right into a googly-eyed Oberyn Martell (Alex Moffat) to seemingly end the sketch.

Just one question: Has Kenan even seen “Game of Thrones?”

“Them Trumps” (a Momoa-less sketch) could honestly be a great recurring sketch for “SNL,” but that’s probably not the intent. The punchline — that a black version of Trump would’ve been arrested and impeached by now — works, especially with Kenan’s expected resignation to the fact each time. The closest to a misstep in this sketch is the “from the producers of ‘Empire’” part, because while it gets a good reaction when it’s said, it’s a moment that says the only somewhat prestigious show about black people they could think about is “Empire,” one this sketch doesn’t even crib from stylistically. (If it were to say it’s a show from Shonda Rhimes, for example, the Rhimes-ian style would be on full display.)

This sketch works pretty much because of how much Jason Momoa commits to it and how much Mikey Day reacts with all the confusion of, honestly, probably a large portion of the “SNL” audience. Of course, Momoa is able to distract said audience with his capes, clothing removal, and miracle-inducing twerking.

At the same time, “SNL” could probably stand to take a break from reworking classic books, movies, etc. for sketches. It’s ultimately feeling more“What if blah ended up meeting blah? I think it would go a little something like this…” hacky.

“Day of the Dorks,” however, works both because it at least changes up the material (just not being “Revenge of the Nerds” in name does make a world of difference, even though it is basically “Revenge of the Nerds”) and because Momoa’s character Beef is perfect for this bit. Especially as he gets more obsessed with actually murdering nerds and the rest of the frat brothers finally question a lot of things about this guy.

This sketch has Momoa the most covered up he is this episode, because he’s Santa, but it should also be noted for being a really good live sketch showcase (because those honestly don’t happen that often) for Pete Davidson. Obviously he can deliver in pretapes, and he has his Weekend Update appearances, but he also notoriously breaks during scenes and isn’t particularly great at characters. (Think about a popular recent live sketch focused on Pete — the oil baron sketch in the Adam Driver episode — and he’s clearly not the reason that sketch was as funny as it was. He wasn’t even the second reason.) But as bullying victim-turned-bully (or maybe he always was a bully) Rudolph? This is genuinely good stuff from Pete, and in an episode where there is absolutely zero Ariana Grande mention.

Best Sketch of The Night: “First Impression”

As mentioned, pretty much every sketch with Jason Momoa focuses on his manliness in some way. This particular sketch does the same (with Beck Bennett also along for the ride) in one of the weirdest, most bizarre ways possible. And it’s awesome. Beck’s mischievous, impish teasing once he’s hidden is so strange, with all the “hehehe”s and the eventual character-dropping “Aww crap, I gave it away!”, yet hilarious. And Momoa’s character’s absolute joy and desire — and wall-breaking frustration — to find Beck is just so pure.

This sketch is just so pure.

Worst Sketch of The Night: “Elf on the Shelf”

Despite next week’s episode presumably being the last new one of 2018, this episode goes hard in the paint for Christmas sketches. Yes, it’s the holiday season, but with another week to go before hiatus, there is just too much Christmas cheer in this episode, which would be fine if the sketches were also all pretty good. But so many of the sketches in this episode come across like half-baked ideas, with relatively good (or at least decent) ideas that aren’t quite there yet.

When it comes to this sketch: Honestly, the elf voice effect is annoying after the first 15 seconds of hearing it. As for the joke, a 13-year-old kid is masturbating, and the poor elf on the shelf (the Momoa character) assigned to him has to suffer for it. That’s it. That’s the joke. Well, that and Santa and the other elves not getting it. To be fair though, “Oh, Scrappy, you spelled flashlight wrong.” is a solid dirty joke.

(There are also two “storybook” sketches, which seems like something that should have a hard limit at one. And if you count “Game of Thrones,” yeah, let’s keep it at one from now on, please.)

Best Male Performer: Beck Bennett

This is 100 percent for his work in “First Impression.”

Best Female Performer: Aidy Bryant

While her bit as Olenna Tyrell is a short one, it’s one of the funniest bits in the episode. In fact, while Kate McKinnon’s Joffrey really isn’t all the great, it’s once she has to play off Aidy that things get interesting.

But Aidy’s Weekend Update feature (as “7th Grade Travel Expert Carrie Krum”) is instant recurring character material, with her excited stories about “exotic” locations like the Atlanta airport or all the majesty one can find if they go to the Midwest (as long as they don’t go to Montana, because of the rocks) and have the exact same experiences as her and her family. “When adults are laughing, I’m laughing right along with them.” Truer words have never been spoken.

Final Thoughts

Honestly, Gemma is back, and that’s really all that actually matters. But, since this isn’t an all Gemma episode…

The brief disappointment in seeing a Trump Tower establishing shot (and looming threat of Alec Baldwin’s Trump impression) is immediately replaced with joy by the cold open focusing on Donald Trump Jr. (Mikey Day) and Eric Trump (Alex Moffat), With the race car bed and the continued stupidity of Eric, it’s honestly a solid start to the episode. But then there’s the reveal of the boogeyman mentioned at the beginning of the sketch: Robert De Niro’s Robert Mueller.

Because the “SNL” crowd will “woooo!” any celebrity that shows up, of course De Niro gets that treatment — despite, it should be noted, De Niro never actually being a good “SNL” guest or host. Had the show honestly only gotten him for the one bit of shushing Moffat’s Eric Trump from the closet, it would have been worth it. But then he had to perform the “character,” eyes trained on the cue cards and stumbling through his lines. It’s a shame too, because “No Eric, getting elected president was the worst thing that ever happened to your dad.” would be such a good line if it were actually delivered well though. It still gets a “woooo!” though.

There should a rule that, unless it’s for a character bit, no Weekend Update anchor should ever be allowed to say “dude.” In theory, that’s already an unwritten rule, but with every instance Colin Jost utters “dude” on live television, it’s clear this is something that needs to be officially nipped in the bud. Kind of like the audience clearly said to his “joke?” (that’s how they react to it) about the stock market crashing because of Trump tweeting, one of the earliest absolute bombs of a Weekend Update joke in recent memory. (Usually, the audience’s lack of reaction to one of these jokes is later on.)

So, as it turns out, Michael Che works better as part of Weekend Update when he’s not actually an anchor on Weekend Update. His Update feature on bidets is honestly the most comfortable he’s ever seemed behind that desk, even when he’s trying to pretend he’s uncomfortable. (“Shut up, Colin! You… white guy. It’s better when Leslie does it.”)

Also, Michael Che’s bidet bit actually features a reworked version of one of Kevin Hart’s controversial tweets — the part about the chicken/clean bone — only without the homophobia.

Jason Momoa is certainly not lacking in enthusiasm and also has the charisma to not make that annoying. But again, as this is his first time hosting, that enthusiasm led him to kind of speed through things. Besides the Oscar hosting thing, he didn’t have any major flubs like Liev Schreiber. But there was a night and day difference between his execution in the live sketches and the pretapes. The “Day of the Dorks” sketch — where he does a perfect Ogre, just like Kyle Mooney physically transforms into Robert Carradine — is perhaps the one live sketch where it all works out, and even there, his first bit of dork-based violence leads to a stagehand ending up in the shot. For next time, the key on his end will just be to slow down a bit.

But when an episode of “SNL” isn’t a holiday-themed clip show and it’s still only eight days into December, this amount of Christmas sketches isn’t necessary. Especially since the holiday gimmick can often just read as a type of laziness, and while there are relatively good sketches and good moments in these sketches, except for “First Impression” and possibly “Rudolph’s Big Night” (for Pete Davidson fully carrying a sketch and without breaking), none of these particular sketches are great or even all that memorable.

Grade: C+

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